Following Jesus can be very lonely sometimes. His moral standards and attitudes toward people are so different that the more we obey Him the more we find ourselves at odds with our culture. Awkward moments increase when we have to say no to something or yes to something others think is crazy. People view us with suspicion and wonder if weve taken this religious thing too far. Some friends stop socializing with us, employers may look for an opportunity to fire us or at least pass us by for a promotion. Teachers may drop our grades because they dont like what we write. Even family may act strangely around us. What was once a close relationship may grow strained and awkward.
Jesus, of course, said all of this would happen. He said the world doesnt like Him so if we follow Him it wont like us either (Jn 15:18, 19; Mt 10:34-37). But when that process actually starts it still comes as a shock. Surely our family and friends will see the good things God is doing in our lives. Surely in the bottom of their heart they know His ways are right. Surely when they hear our story they too will believe.
And thankfully, some do, but others dont, at least for a long time. Even religious people, those who call themselves Christians, may grow angry and push us away. It seems the gospel, the real one that is, tests the human heart separating those who believe from those who dont. There have been seasons in history and places on earth when large numbers have believed. But at other places and times, those numbers grow small
and those faithful few can feel very much alone. The Bible has a name for these, it calls them the remnant.
What is Paul saying? (Ro 9:27-29; 11:1-5)
Paul has just quoted from Hosea (Ro 9:25, 26) to explain why God did not appear to be punishing those who were violently persecuting the gospel. He said God was holding back judgment waiting for certain people to repent. Some of His most ardent opponents, like Paul himself had been, were going to believe, and when they did He would completely restore them and pour out His blessings upon them. In other words, God was waiting for people He knew were His, but they just didnt know it yet.
Twenty-five years after Jesus ascended, the number of believing Jews was a very small percentage of Judaism. Yet Paul says that small number must not be seen as a failure of the gospel (Ro 9:6). The gospel was at work like a sword dividing Israel and producing a remnant. God actually was judging His people only this time He was using the gospel, not invading armies. There had been similar seasons in Israels history when there were many physically descended from Abraham, but only a small percentage who shared his faith. Paul wants us to see that a remnant was being formed during his day as well.
Who are the remnant?
The word remnant simply means a small group of survivors. Some tragedy has happened so that the majority of people have been lost, yet a small percentage has escaped. There are actually two different kinds of remnants described in the Bible. There is a righteous remnant whom God spares from His judgement because they have not followed the evil ways of the majority. Noah (Ge 6:13, 14) and Lot (Ge 19:12-26) are examples. There is also an unrighteous remnant. There were times in Israels history when God spared a portion of the population, not because they were righteous, but so that through them He could keep alive promises He had made to their ancestors (Isa 1:4-9; 6:9-13). Obviously, in Romans Paul is talking about a righteous remnant. Those Jews who believed in the Messiah Jesus had become a remnant for their generation. Though few in number, because of their faith, they carried forward Gods promises to their nation.
The righteous remnant
The righteous remnant carry a spiritual significance that cant be seen by simply looking at statistics. Though few in number they are the focal point of the kingdom of God in that generation or in that place:
They preserve Gods promises, keeping them burning through an evil generation.
They become a mustard seed (Mt 13:31, 32) for God to begin a new work.
They are beloved and give God the worship the majority should have given Him (silence before the Holy God of heaven is a scandal. Someone must praise Him in your city).
Their presence preserves the majority population from Gods physical forms of judgement (Ge 18:22-33).
The remnant may be much larger in number than meets the eye (1Ki 19:10, 18).
The way God thinks
God counts hearts that are His, not heads. And He only needs a few to accomplish His purposes (Mt 18:20 For where 2 or 3 have gathered in My name, I am there in their midst). Of course, He wants as many as possible to come to Him, but remember Hes not waitiing to see what that number might be (foreknowledge). In every generation He knows the exact number who are or will be His. And small numbers dont panic Him, nor do they limit what He can accomplish. Just think of how many examples there are in the Bible of God doing great things through just a few (Gideon, David again Goliath, Jonathan and his armor-bearer; against a garrison of Philistines, Davids mighty men (2Sa 23:8-23), etc.). Outnumbered and against all odds God used a few to bring a great victory. In fact its in these kinds of situations where Gods power is most clearly seen, because the human contribution is so small everyone can see Gods hand.
The United States is changing and the believing church is becoming a remnant. The last statistic I read said about 24% could be categorized as evangelical Christians, and even more serious is the statistic that only 4% of the young generation calls themselves Christians. A season is arriving in which you and I must choose to be courageous. To be effective for God will require us to be willing to stand alone at times, to live by moral standards out of step with our culture, to endure rejection or ridicule, and yet not allow discouragement to take hold of our heart. We must boldly accept the challenge to be salt and light (Mt 5:13-16). We must keep a proper perspective that we are a focal point for Gods work in our generation and though we are few in number, He delights to use us to accomplish great things. (Review: the righteous remnant).
Salt and light
Theres an old saying, All it takes for evil to prevail is for a few good men to do nothing. In other words, a majority isnt required to bring Gods will into a situation, all He needs is for someone to be willing to put their life on the line, to radically obey Him in key moments of decision. Faith, in itself, isnt enough. To be salt (to preserve against corruption) and light (to bring Gods truth into darkness) requires courage. So God wants to strategically place us in situations where He can use us to bring His will to pass. For that to happen I must be:
Willing to stand alone, apart from the group.
Willing to exchange the worlds wisdom for Gods.
- The way the world thinks and God thinks is radically different.
- I need regular contact with the Word to renew my thinking and refresh my faith.
Willing to be placed in a difficult situation.
- Mustard seed (Mt 13:31, 32; Mk 4:30-32; Lk 13:18, 19).
- I have a part to play, but it is God who will bring His will to pass.
Willing to pay the emotional price afterward.
- Even when God is victorious, playing this role can be costly, leaving us feeling tired, alone, unwanted, somewhat resentful that I was left to take the hit while others who shared my concerns lacked the courage to say anything.
- Theres a danger of becoming self-righteous and bitter.
Application: Being a remnant
How do I live as a remnant in this generation?
Pray for revival.
Be conscious of living prophetically as an example (serve more than scold).
Allow God to promote me into positions where I can influence decisions.
Transform every environment where I have influence. Pastor my business, my team, my class...
Learn to pray with authority.
Recognize worship as a warfare which drives back the darkness.
- The atmosphere of a community can change without people even knowing why.
An old song says, Though none go with me still I will follow... Is there anyone here whos been afraid to accept Jesus because of the backlash you knew would come, but today to choose you courageously confess Him?
Is there anyone whos lost heart and said were losing and your response is to want to hide from the world, but today you choose to live courageously as salt and light?
1) Have you ever experienced what was unmistakably religious persecution? How did you respond? What did God do?
2) Has God placed you as His mustard seed in a garden of people? Has He used you to change hearts or improve the quality of decisions?